A Next Step in EMS Provider Safety and Health

Over the last few years, EMS provider safety and health has come to the forefront.  Rightfully so. Whether unreported, under-reported, or just ignored in the past, we’ve recently begun to recognize the threats to EMS professionals of all sorts.  There are several organizations, most notably the Code Green Campaign, who’ve done an excellent job at suicide prevention and mental health awareness in EMS. Other EMS providers have noted the upswing in violence toward EMS responders and have raised awareness and training to address this threat.

However, one of the latest public safety suicides, that of a firefighter/paramedic in northern Virginia, really hit home to me. There are allegations that the medic in question was the victim of workplace bullying and cyber-bullying.

Somewhere, somehow along the way, the public safety world got fed a lie in that hazing and bullying are part of a so-called brotherhood. There’s certainly nothing wrong with some good natured teasing and some ribald jokes (of which I know quite a few).  However, when you’re continually targeting a particular person or group at your workplace, that’s definitely “not cool.”

I’ve been in some organizations, especially when I was younger, where jokes got carried too far.  When I was much younger, I was, for a short time, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.  I saw hazing.  I experienced hazing.  And all it did, at least in my case, was cause me to reevaluate my decision about a naval career.  There’s no brotherhood in tormenting those beneath you.  And “they did it to us” is no justification for continuing to do the wrong thing.

We’ve got way too many toxic workplaces in public safety.  The behaviors range from bullying to hazing to cliques that control the workplace.  I could spend an entire post on the destructiveness brought on by the cliques of “cool kids” in a workplace that serve to alienate and marginalize everyone else.  When you combine the “cool kid” clique with social media posts where the “cool kids” brag about their weekend exploits and hijinks, particularly with willing and participating members of management, you create a toxic culture where some members of the organization become ostracized.  Whether it’s intentional or just ignorant, it’s the height of hypocrisy to discuss teamwork and have teambuilding exercises when there’s alienation occurring right underneath ones’ eyes.

Between provider suicides, mental health crises, and losing EMS’s best and brightest to other professions, it’s clear that EMS has some issues to resolve.  Resolving those issues is going to require a massive shift in attitude towards how we treat other, towards a real brotherhood (or sisterhood), and making things at the station a hell of a lot less toxic.  It’s time to realize that being a professional is about doing the right thing, not just the fun thing — and it begins with how we treat each other. Let’s have that discussion about how we’re treating each other.  I’m not completely sure we’ll like what we’re hearing.